The Fantasia Festival begins today, July 11, and continues till Aug. 1, bringing three weeks of genre cinema to the theatres on Concordia’s downtown campus. Here is our first of many review round-ups:
The Deeper You Dig
Frankly, just the story behind the production of The Deeper You Dig is enough to sell it. It was almost entirely made by three people: John Adams, his wife Toby Poser and their teenage daughter Zelda. They play the three main on-screen roles and most of the ones on the other side of the camera, too — which doesn’t immediately suggest quality so much as it does the kind of hubristic and insular production that immediately becomes a cult classic for the wrong reasons. I’m pleased to report that The Deeper You Dig isn’t that at all — it’s a pretty nifty slice of bugnuts psychological thriller.
Zelda Adams plays Echo, a teenage girl who ignores her mother’s (Poser) warnings and goes sledding in the middle of the night, when she is hit by Kurt (John Adams), a local man who quickly disposes of the body considering he was three sheets to the wind when the accident happened. The event, however, weighs heavily on Kurt and on Echo’s mother, whose faltering card-reading skills nevertheless suggest that the worst is to be expected.
Though it certainly has some of the flaws that come with the territory of making such small, intimate films (some stilted line readings, some fairly rough CGI), The Deeper You Dig is a pretty effective bit of weird and dreamy filmmaking. Perpetually dipping in and out of nightmare states, it’s a rather good example of doing a lot with extremely little. (Alex Rose)
The Deeper You Dig screens at the J.A. de Sève cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Thursday, July 11, 9:30 p.m. and again on Friday, July 12, 2:35 p.m.
The Art of Self-Defense
Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is cripplingly introverted; he spends his entire life essentially alone, eavesdropping on conversations and wishing that he, too, could be part of them. When he’s brutally mugged one evening, self-defense becomes a part of his recovery process. It involves signing up for karate classes given by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), a tough and uncompromising master who shapes his students into his own idea of perfect masculinity. That would just be weird and problematic if the classes didn’t have an even more nefarious goal in mind.
The Art of Self -Defense is essentially a pared-down and roughed up version of Fight Club. Like that movie, it draws parallels between toxic masculinity and cultish behaviour. Director Riley Stearns is essentially arguing that fascistic desire to achieve masculine individuality is in fact just falling in line with your worst impulses — which The Art of Self-Defense establishes early on, so much so that the rest of the film seems like it’s beating you over the head with its satire a little bit. Nevertheless, it’s perfectly cast and pitched, a foreboding black comedy that works well as a diptych with Stearns’ previous film, Faults. (AR)
The Art of Self-Defense screens in the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Thursday, July 11, 9:30 p.m. See our interview with Jesse Eisenberg about the film here.
Who is Chiwawa? She’s Chiwaki (Shiori Yoshida, embodying the Wikipedia entry for “bubbly charm”), a cheerful party girl, a confidante, a fashion model and the centre of attention at every party! A serial seducer, she’s many things — but now she’s dead. Ever since she was found dismembered in Tokyo Bay, her former group of friends is grieving. Everyone but Miki (a haunted Mugi Kadowaki), who needs to make sense of who the enigmatic stranger in her life was and what path led to her grisly end.
While Chiwawa is based on a 1996 Kyoko Okazaki manga, director Ken Ninomiya brings the story into the present day by fully rooting it in an Instagram ennui-aesthetic. It’s a nightclub world of extremely bright lights that are soon to fade.
Miki meets with her old friends, mostly remembering their neon-lit glory days and nights and realizing they didn’t really know the woman at the centre of it all. Different tellings and reconstructions of how Chiwawa made her way through the group’s life are brought to life with a Day-Glo doom reminiscent of Spring Breakers.
Strong performances from the two leads anchor the movie through a flimsy (and flashy) first act and while there are slight attempts at a more mysterious, genre-focused story with Mugi Kadowaki’s Miki becoming a badge-less PI investigating the death of her friend, Ninomiya is more interested in how Chiwawa lived rather than how she died. (Yannick Belzil)
Chiwawa screens in the J.A. de Sève cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) Friday, July 12, 9:45 p.m. and again on Monday, July 15, 4:25 p.m.
Sons of Denmark
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more politically charged and gut-wrenchingly relevant film then Sons of Denmark at this year’s festival. While Danish, it is very much a product of the post-Trump era. The rise of anti-immigrant and white nationalist hate-speech, as well as the fascistic tendencies it propagates are displayed with unflinching clarity. It thereby fosters considerable empathy with great efficacy for all those who are refugees, immigrants, Muslims, or otherwise considered undesirable in Western societies.
The film has an unconventional narrative structure, shifting several times between the central characters, allowing their fates to fully intertwine. Zakaria is a 19 year old Muslim man who came to Denmark as a child with his mother and younger brother, after his father was killed in Iraq. The peaceful and privileged life he has known is marred by escalating hate crimes towards Muslims perpetrated by the Sons of Denmark, a white power group fueled by the rhetoric of Martin Nordahl’s National Movement party’s electoral campaign. Tired of being treated like “trash” in his own country, Zakaria sets out to do something about it. Ali is enlisted to train him for the cause, and, inevitably, Nordahl becomes the target. What follows is a surprisingly twisty story in which first-time writer-director Ulaa Salim maintains a viselike grip. It’s a thriller alright, but you’re never allowed to forget the real-world reverberations.
As such, escapism this movie isn’t, but in light of everything that’s been happening not only in Denmark, but also in France, plus the anti-immigrant sentiment that fueled Brexit, Trump’s concentration camps, and Bill 9 in this very province, Sons of Denmark is essential viewing. (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)
Sons of Denmark screens in the J.A. de Sève cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve) on Friday, July 12, 12:15 p.m. and again on Saturday, July 13, 9:30 p.m.
For the full Fantasia program, go to the festival’s website.
See our festival highlights here.